Portastatic, Be Still Please

Portastatic, Be Still Please

As huge of a Superchunk fan as I am, I’ve never really jumped on the Portastatic bandwagon. (Obligatory explanatory digression: Portastatic is the side-project of Superchunk frontman Mac McCaughan. We now return you to the review, already in progress.) After a few albums of widely divergent style and quality, I didn’t pay much attention; from most reports, further albums went even farther afield, including film scores and an EP of tropicalia. But new Superchunk releases are harder to find than bin Laden these days, and when I heard the surprisingly Superchunk-esque “Through With People” off of last year’s Bright Ideas, it seemed like, just maybe, Portastatic could fill the large Superchunk-sized hole in my heart. (Or ears. Not sure how that metaphor should play out.)

Sadly, though, Be Still Please is two sizes too small to fill that hole. There’s some moments of very un-Superchunk-y quiet but lush beauty, such as “Like A Pearl,” and there’s no question that Mac can dig out a catchy chorus when it pleases him, as in “I’m In Love (With Arthur Dove)” or “You Fuckers.” (Okay, it’s called “You Blanks,” but it’s clear what the title should be from the song. What, was there a worry about Wal-Mart not carrying this?) But more often than not, Be Still Please betrays a musical tourist of sorts, playing around with a bunch of different styles without concern for the overall experience. “Sweetness and Light” digs out a tropicalia groove, while other tracks seem indebted to acts on his label, Merge Records — “Black Buttons” evokes Lambchop in parts, while the epic “Getting Saved” mines a heavy Crooked Fingers vibe. (Although they might both just be referencing Bruce Springsteen.)

Unfortunately, the variable approaches aren’t always ones that fit McCaughan equally well; the raspy debauched persona that fits Eric Bachmann so well in Crooked Fingers, for instance, is almost comically out of place here. Don’t get me wrong — there’s an overarching laidback vibe and yearning for beauty that (along with copious strings) loosely ties the album together, but it still feels like a rambling, unfulfilling walkabout to me. The liner notes mention a dedication to the Go-Betweens, who I’m not particularly familiar with, so perhaps they’re the secret key to putting this album together.

But not every record is going to be No Pocky for Kitty or Indoor Living, and you have to let your heroes go on these sort of walkabouts. And I suspect it’s an album that those less blinded by history than I will find much to admire in, perhaps an album that with time I’ll find myself much fonder of. So I will remain patient and optimistic, and hopefully someday I will be rewarded for this patience. Stranger things have happened.

(Merge Records -- P.O. Box 1235, Chapel Hill, NC. 27514; http://www.mergerecords.com/; Portastatic -- http://www.portastatic.com/)
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Tuesday, November 14th, 2006. Filed under Reviews.

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